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Lee Hills, Knight Ridder newsman

Former Knight Ridder chairman and CEO Lee Hills, who led the Miami Herald to its first Pulitzer Prize in 1951 and went on to lead its parent company, died Thursday after a long illness.

Mr. Hills, 93, had been hospitalized at the Miami Heart Institute and Medical Center for a digestive disorder. Doctors said he died there at 11:15 a.m., apparently from congestive heart failure.

"There were so many facets to the man," said his wife, Tina. "He had so many interests. He was a community leader, an art lover. But he always said that the best thing was to be a reporter, and a good one. That was his love."

Mr. Hills was a newspaperman through and through, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who once ran the Herald and the Detroit Free Press simultaneously, took on organized crime and was largely responsible for the Herald's tradition of aggressive investigative journalism.

"A newspaper is a very local, a very special business, which is more than a business, and we forget this at our peril," he once said.

He was an influential philanthropist, a trustee and former chairman of the Miami-based Knight Foundation, among the nation's top 35 philanthropic organizations.

He was a crafty businessman, forging a news-first, advertising-second strategy during World War II that helped the Herald emerge as South Florida's dominant newspaper.

Mr. Hills, a member of the Inter-American Press Association, was an affectionate friend of Latin America who insisted that the Herald devote considerable resources to coverage of that region.

He was a patron of the arts in South Florida and elsewhere and a leading force behind the creation of Miami's downtown cultural arts plaza.

And he was a widely respected and admired man.

"He always treated me with great kindness," said Attorney General Janet Reno, a longtime friend whose father, Henry, was a legendary police reporter who worked with Hills at the Herald. "As I grew up, I came to know Lee Hills as a great newspaperman who sought the truth. He reported the news fairly and accurately."

On a Sunday morning in 1942, Hills called upon John Knight, publisher of the Akron Beacon-Journal, at his suburban Ohio home. The quick thinking of the 36-year-old Lee Hills impressed Knight.

Knight outlined a developing situation in Miami where he and his brother James had purchased the Miami Herald five years earlier. What about starting as city editor?

"I'll take it," Mr. Hills said.

He arrived in Miami on Sept. 26, 1942. In four months, he was the managing editor. His career brought him a wealth of titles within the Knight constellation. Eventually, the top Knight papers, deemed "almost autonomous," reported to Mr. Hills.

When Knight Newspapers Inc. merged with Ridder Publications Inc. in 1974, a business deal Mr. Hills helped forge, he became the first chairman and chief executive officer of Knight Ridder, a newspaper group then with the nation's largest circulation.

In 1981, after nearly 40 years, Mr. Hills officially retired as editorial chairman of Knight Ridder. At his death, he held the title of editorial chairman emeritus.